Question of the Day

I am a high school teacher in Sonoma, California. I primarily teach Freshman Algebra 1, but I am also teaching a section of Algebra 1 for students who need to repeat the course. My school has been in distance learning since March, so things are definitely different as far as how I teach my classes and what I ask of my students. For this academic year, my TRC team wanted to explore “equitable talk”, but as it stands, I am barely able to get my students to turn on their microphones and speak to me privately, let alone on a Zoom call with 25 other students – assuming they are even sitting on the other end of their little black Zoom squares. 

In addition to being fully online, I was also on maternity leave last semester and only worked with my current students for the first three weeks back in August / September before handing things over to a sub. So I am in a unique position of being “back in the classroom” (at a desk in my kitchen) trying to connect with my students, feeling like a new teacher again. Since I knew it was going to be a huge challenge to try and get my students to speak up and share their thoughts, I decided to start with something small and manageable – a “Question of the Day” that was non-math related that could be easily answered by every single student. I got the idea from another teacher who said he was getting good feedback from the students when he started class with a non-content question. I also liked the idea because it made me feel like I was somewhat able to get to know my students as they share little things about themselves through their answers to these silly questions. 

I have been doing a “Question of the Day” followed by a math warm-up about twice a week since we came back at the beginning of January. My hope was that I would get more student engagement and response by starting off with an easy question that everyone could respond to, for example: “Pizza or Burritos?” or “What is One Thing That Brings You Joy?” Then, if I already had their attention and they were able to start class sharing something small, I hoped they would be more inclined to share their thoughts about a math warm-up as well. 

I offered participation points for the non-content “question of the day” as well as the math warm-up so all students were able to get their participation points. I also shared responses so each class gets to hear what their peers said, but I didn’t call out names. I believe this has built some trust between my students and me so they are more willing to share. So here we are in week six of this semester and I am looking at the data I have collected so far. I am actually surprised and pleased that my original plan – this routine might create more engagement and increase the number of responses – is actually working! The percentage of students who responded in the first week back compared to the fifth week back has grown! And not just for the silly “question of the day” questions, but also for the math warm-up. Here is the data I’ve collected so far in two of my classes (note: 1st period is my class of Algebra 1 students who are repeating the course and my 3rd period class is my Freshman Algebra class):

I am so happy that in this small way I am seeing improvement in student response and growth in student voice. This is the way that they are comfortable and able to share in our current platform. I am 100% onboard with spending the time doing these silly “questions of the day”, even if there is only the smallest chance of improving the connection between me and my students.

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